My roommate Lauren turned to me at one point today and said, “We are a group of Jews in the Christian Quarter of the Old City listening to the Muslim call of prayer.” This is the best way to describe our education seminar this week. At 7:00 a.m. this morning all of the Otzmanikim and I boarded the bus to Jerusalem to explore the Old City. We started in the Muslim Quarters, made our way through the Jewish Quarters, then headed to the Christian Quarters, and ended our day at the top of the Mountain of Olives.
Our tour guide for the day started off the morning by saying that our goal is to try and understand and see the beauty of each culture [Christianity, Arab, Jewish]. The first place we visited was the Muslim Quarter which is where King Solomon’s Temple [more formally known as Temple Mount] was, and the Dome of the Rock – an Islamic Shrine. This is the third holiest site for the Muslims. For those who believe in more than just science, this is also where Adam and Eve were created, aka where the world was created from.
Although this area is the center for the heart of the Jewish people, currently, Arabs are in control of the area. This area was given to them by the Israeli’s under one condition that the Arabs cannot use any violence. This is enforced by IDF soldiers patrolling the area.
This is the first time that Jesus was mentioned. Our tour guide also told us how this site is of great importance for Christians. Jesus came to the Temple that was built here when he was 40 days old. Muslims think Jesus is a prophet who will come back as Messiah one day. The Jews think he was a Jew, some think he was at least a righteous Jew, and others just think he’s a troublemaker.
While walking through the Muslim Quarters I saw Arabs cleansing and purifying themselves in the fountains. The men in control of the areas often yelled at us to move along, and our tour guide would get frustrated because we weren’t ready to move on. I observed how the Arabs here seem very much into their own world, and bitter towards anyone who wants to enter it. But this was not at all the case when I was in Jordan. I think it is hard for these Arabs living in Israel because they believe it is their land, and here are 40 Jews coming in and snapping photos of it. Granted we weren’t allowed to wear anything religious, not even a Star of David necklace. We also had to have our full body covered. However, a Jew is a Jew, and you can kind of tell when we’re a group of Jews.
Afterwards we walked to the destruction site of the temple that was rebuilt in the 1700’s. In order to rebuild it the Jews had to take loans from the Muslims (who were then in control of the area), and unfortunately could not pay off the debt quickly enough. After twenty years the Muslims told them to get out. A lot of Ashkenazis would dress up as Sephardic Jews so they could live and pray there. But in the end, it was another typical Jewish moment of “get out.”
Around 200 years later, in the early 1900’s, students decided they wanted to move back to Israel to re-establish themselves, and set up a life for themselves in Jerusalem. This marked the beginning of that famous Z-word, no, not Zink, Zionism! Unfortunately a short while later, on May 27, 1948, Jordanians conquered the Jewish Quarter and blew up anything and everything that was “Jewish.” This Synagogue represents 2,000 years of Jews trying to come back to Israel. And it was nice sitting there staring at the Synagogue, knowing that, at least for the moment, and hopefully forever, the Jews are back in Israel and we can move about freely in and around this Synagogue.
In the Jewish Quarter we learned about other areas that were destroyed by outsiders and taken over. As we were standing in one particular neighborhood our tour guide spoke with us of when the Hadrian and his followers took the city of Jerusalem, flatlined it, and built a Holy City over it. They then gave this a new name, that today no longer exists, but many support would be called: Palestine. After this was the Bar Kochba Rebellion, when all of the Jews rebelled against Hadrian and his supporters. In this rebellion 600,000 Jews were killed and, in the words of our tour guide, “It was a horrible trauma to the Jewish people.”
A lot of people question whether this rebellion should have happened or not. The consequences were the loss of human life – it was the second worst loss of Jewish life besides the Holocaust, although in percentage we were told it was similar.
After touring the Jewish Quarter we ate a little lunch and then made our way to the Christian Quarters. It was here that we saw the number one tourist site in Israel, and the holiest site for Christians: where Jesus was crucified and buried.
There were so many tourists from all over the world, pushing and shoving to get inside. I have no idea how long the line was to see where Jesus is actually buried, but I have to admit it was a long enough line that I don’t know if it’s ever worth me waiting in it.
This place (known as Golgotha – “Place of the Skull”) is also where Adam (Adam & Eve that is) was buried. Although our tour guide is Jewish, he said for the sake of where we were he was going to speak to us from a Christian’s point of view. In a particular room he shared with us a story about how when Jesus was crucified a drop of his blood touched Adams skull and Adam then came back to life. It was a man of no sins touching a man who was the first to ever sin.
I wish I could say I was reflecting about my day as I looked toward the sun beginning to set in Jerusalem. But my memory card on my camera was full and instead I decided to start deleting some photos off of it. I did reflect though, with my iPod in hand, my headphones in my ears, and my eyes on the nighttime Israeli sky, my toosh in the bus seat, and my brain focused on three different religions. Who is right? Who is wrong? What is true and what is propaganda? These are all questions that no one in the world really knows, and to be honest, I kind of like it that way. I don’t even know right now how I feel. But I do want to say the one thing that surprised me the most during the day was touring the Muslim Quarters. I couldn’t believe how hostile the Muslims were toward us. When I was walking through their shuk (market) I saw t-shirts saying “Free Palestine.” In Israel! This world is a crazy place I tell ya, and I just wish for once we could all get along and love each other.
P.S. I am exhausted and did not edit this post. However, I am leaving for the weekend and wanted to get it up sooner rather than later. I hope you can forgive me and not laugh too hard at any grammatical errors I may have made!